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Recent History: A Novel

Recent History: A Novel

by Anthony Giardina


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In 1962, twelve-year-old Luca Carcera’s father suddenly moves out of the house under mysterious circumstances and surfaces across town in a run-down rooming house, living with another man. This event casts a long shadow over Luca’s own sexual coming-of-age, calling into dramatic question every relationship he develops—or fails to. Years later, Luca enters his own marriage harboring a sexual secret that, in an earlier era, might have remained a secret, but which now forces him to confront, in the most painful way, the strictly demarcated boundaries of male sexuality.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375759383
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/09/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.58(d)

About the Author

The author of two novels and a short-story collection, Anthony Giardina has has two plays produced to critical acclaim at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, the Manhattan Theatre Club, Arena Stage in Washington, and elsewhere. He has written for Harper’s, Esquire, GQ, and The New York Times Magazine.

Read an Excerpt

When I was eleven years old, in April 1961, my father arrived at school one day to take me into the woods. It was half-day, Wednesday. I usually walked home for lunch but that day he was waiting beside the Fairlane, in the suit he wore to work, the only man among the group of older, nervous mothers who insisted on coming and walking their children home from school.

On the drive — unannounced, with a mysterious destination — he tapped the wheel and hummed an odd little song that let me know he was nervous. I tried to follow the song, but couldn’t. My father was a small, secretive man, quiet, well-dressed. He was known in the family into which he had married, a large and clamorous Italian family (as he was Italian, himself), as one who habitually stood back from the passionate center of action. You can see even now, in the home movies that survive from those years (he never took them, my Uncle John did), how he stands aside from the others on the beach, hardly noticeable sometimes, smaller and more compact and less expansive than the other, heavier, laughing men. What those movies don’t tell you, though, is how he spoke, and the power he wielded because of the way he spoke. “Should we dig for clams?” someone on the beach would shout, trying to draw one last drop from the day. “No,” he’d say, and point. “The tide’s coming in.” The others would stand back then, nod. How foolish they’d been.

That day, he’d brought sandwiches for us to eat, meatball; they were on the seat between us. By the time we were into the woods the submarine rolls had gone soggy, and the bag had a wet stain on the bottom. We had to park at the bottom of the hill where the road ended — the hill was adjacent to the old Girl Scout property, a large undeveloped tract in our town, which had been dominated once by a mill and watch factory, then, after these had closed, had managed to hold on to its population by becoming a bedroom community for the city of Boston. There were still large wooded patches left, one or two farms. My father led me up the hill, as if following some sort of map that existed nowhere but in his head.

We found a rock — a large, flat boulder — that seemed to be what he was looking for, then ate the sandwiches. He still hadn’t spoken. He held a napkin six inches under his chin, a formal gesture, so as to catch any of the drops of sauce. Then, finally, he leaned toward me. He nodded once, and his lips made a small, familiar pursing motion.

“We’re going to live here, Luca,” he whispered.

He took another bite, then gestured, with his mouth full, across the ground in front of us. “This, this is our lot.”

My father’s voice had a slight rasp to it, as though he were in fact tougher than he appeared. It mixed with what was subtle and educated about him, and it was one of the things — there were many others — that gave the effect of there being at least two of him, two things not fighting it out so much as living inside of him in some interesting kind of harmony.

“That, over there, you see those sticks with the little orange flags? They mark out lots. Of course it’s only trees now, but they’re going to build a road up here. Everything you see . . .” Here he hesitated again. “They’re going to blast away. The rocks and . . .” He gestured with his fist. “Make houses. You can’t see it, but there’s an orange stick way over there. That’s where Uncle John’s house is going to be. We’re starting a neighborhood, you could say. The family. The Italians.”

He laughed a little after he said that, as if this last part of it, the Italian part, so important to my Uncle John, could never be as serious to him.

Then there was a silence. I looked where he’d asked me to look, and took in all this strange information, strangely delivered; delivered, that is, as though while he was telling me one thing, he was also telling me something else. So I listened harder than I was used to. I listened for the second story.

We kept a photograph prominent in our house in those days, a photograph taken when my father was in college. He’d gone to Boston College, the first in his family to go beyond high school, on a hockey scholarship. The photograph was black and white: him and his teammates, a row seated, a row standing, hockey sticks crossed in front of the seated row, “Snooks” Kelly, famous in our house, stood beside them, heavy, jacketed, the coach. They were either jug-eared boys or else big-jawed boy-men who looked thirty when they were only twenty, and I suspect your eye would be drawn to my father even if you didn’t know him. Seated in the front row, he is smaller and more delicate then the others, the one who appears most singular, and therefore blessed. There is a smile he is wearing that I used to sit and study. It was the smile of a man announcing: I am in this world, but not of it.

It was there now, curiously so, as he looked off into space, and ate his sandwich.

“Listen,” he said. “This is for you. Here, living here, so you can have a better life.”

I watched him consider his words carefully.

“Candace Road, that’s a decent street, Luca, a nice neighborhood, but this is really something else . . .” Suddenly he trailed off. Something had begun to trouble him.

He had stopped — that was my father — as if too bold an announcement would trap him. He smoothed the wax paper in his lap. He took several seconds and then he looked at me. “You almost finished?”

I said that I was, though I still had half a sandwich in my lap.

That is the quality I remember of that day: my settling into a journey I believed was to be slow and luxurious, then being hurried by him, as if the direction in which he’d pointed us were being altered midstroke.

I have to say that in the days and weeks afterward, my father seemed more excited by what he was doing than he had that day in the woods. Sometimes, even months later, he would take out the architect’s renderings and sit with us — that is, with my mother and me; I was their only child — at the kitchen table, pointing out this nicety and that. It wasn’t uncommon that as he was speaking he would touch my hair. I would run down the street, afterward, on a kind of cloud. And return, an hour or so later, to find he had retreated to his office, my mother setting the table for the two of us.

Reading Group Guide

1. How damaging does Recent History suggest secrets are to a marriage? Could the father have kept his secret, and maintained a good marriage? Could Luca have kept his? How much does the answer to these questions have to do with what we expect of marriage today?

2. Luca says at one point that the main flaw in his marriage is that he has never “fully met” his wife. What does that mean? Is Luca overestimating the need for a level of emotional intimacy in marriage, or is that need really not as strong as he believes? Is the novel making any suggestion that the current demand for intimacy among couples may not be an entirely good thing?

3. How good or bad a father do you think Lou Carcera was? Are there some things he did well in bringing up Luca? Had he been more honest about himself, how much do you think that really would have changed things for Luca?

4. What is the author suggesting is the difference between men’s lives today and men’s lives in 1962, the time when Luca’s father leaves? Does Luca overestimate the differences, or have the changes been as real as he believes?

5. Is this a novel about homosexuality? If not, what do you think the author is using homosexuality to say about all forms of sexuality, or about relationships in general? Would Luca have the same, or similar, problems in his relationships if he didn’t have “the haunt” of homosexuality?

6. Is the author suggesting that all men have a homosexual side? One critic said that Giardina “understands something that, in the context of our post-Freudian culture, seems almost revolutionary: our sexual history is not always worth the importance we assign it.” Do you think that’s true? Does Luca’s sexual history really offer him a guide to the potential, or lack of it, in his relationship with Gina?

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